When Ben Mays was a young boy, he dreamed about being in the rodeo. Before he was old enough to participate, he would sit at the kitchen table with crayons and draw pictures of men on horses and cowboys riding bulls. By the age of eight, he won his first kid rodeo event. The trophy was a shiny belt buckle that he keeps in the original box. Now in his 50’s, Ben still competes in amateur rodeo events. He’s won dozens of belt buckles, and thousands of dollars in prize money.
Unfortunately, the rodeo is a dangerous hobby. While competing in the World Series of Team Roping event at the South Point Arena & Equestrian Center on December 10th, Ben severed his right thumb when it was caught between the rope and the saddle horn. Lucky for him, UNLV School of Medicine Associate Professor of Surgery Dr. Richard Baynosa answered the call when Ben was rushed to University Medical Center.
Dr. Baynosa arrived at the hospital to find Ben’s severed digit still lodged inside his roping glove. For six and a half hours, Dr. Baynosa and his team worked to reattach Ben’s thumb. Across the country, less than 40 percent of digit reattachments are attempted, much less successful. The UNLV Division of Plastic Surgery is the only surgery group in Nevada performing the complex procedures.
A special microscope with powerful magnification at UMC helped make the reattachment possible.
“The vessels we’re working on are about 1 millimeter in size, so we’re actually suturing those together with sutures that are thinner than your hair,” Dr. Baynosa said. “When the rodeo comes to town, we tend to see more consults for putting digits back on.”
Mays, who lives in Blythe, California and personifies the qualities of a old time cowboy —
including a raw toughness, and an “aw shucks” attitude —
feels fortunate to have suffered his accident here in Las Vegas. “I’m lucky I was in Las Vegas. If it wasn’t for Dr. Baynosa, I would have just wrapped it up and said,’ Oh well.’”
Now eleven weeks after the surgery, Ben says his right thumb, while scarred and a little shorter than his other thumb, seems to be healing well. He can begin to move it, and there is sensation at the tip. He’s hoping to have the two pins holding the bones together removed in a couple of weeks. After that, he expects to return to work for the California State Agriculture Department, and eventually he’ll get back on his horse again.
“I’ve already sent in my entry free for (the roping event in Las Vegas) next December,” Mays said. “Roping is what I love. Now that I have my thumb back, there’s no reason I can’t get back into the game. Dr. Baynosa did one heck of a job.”